A reader asked if I’d address the issue of singles in the church and how God’s people can be more inclusive. Valentine’s Day is a great time to talk about the unwritten rules of church life and the messages we tell our each other about marriage, singleness and acceptability.
My daughter was introduced to the unwritten rules as a college coed attending the largest Christian university in the country. By the end of her sophomore year, she observed the unspoken expectation was that a girl was to get her MRS. degree by time she graduated. My heart sank because she was introduced to female socialization in the body of Christ.
There’s an unwritten rule that if you’re not married or seriously dating someone, you’re not quite whole, that your life doesn’t begin until you’ve found “the one.” These are lies of the enemy yet we project them in the body of believers.
Marriage is a gift and a blessing to those who chose it. But it’s reached idol status as the coveted prize in life and faith. That’s opposite of God’s word. God asks us to put Him first (Luke 10:27), then others. He asks us to be single so we can be completely devoted to Him, with a secondary alternative of marriage (1 Corinthians 7).
However, these aren’t the social mores of the church. Instead, young adults feel second-rate if they are single at any point in time and older singles struggle with feeling included in our faith communities. I don’t think this is God’s desire.
How can we break these unwritten rules and make non-married individuals feel equal, honored and accepted in our churches?
Make discipleship and devotion to Christ the most important life goal, not getting married.
Stop making distinctions between “single” and “in a relationship”when we talk to and interact with each other. Those are Facebook statuses, not identifiers for which group you belong to.
Have more leadership opportunities where non-married individuals can use their gifts, and callings and more social events that are intergenerational.
Consider the needs of singles in your ministry goals. Family ministries are strong in most churches, but what about discipleship ministries or ministries that meet the needs of non-married individuals? While some churches have single groups, I’ve heard from more than one single adult that these tend to be gathering places for potential mates, not ministries that foster and bless those who are unmarried.
Be mindful of your own perceptions, stereotypes or conversations about singleness.
Be mindful of relationship messages you send your children as you’re raising them.
Be realistic about marriage with your children. Marriage is perceived as “happily ever after.” In reality, it’s hard work. It includes hard times, yet we put on a happy face and pretend all is well. But one out of two marriages end in divorce in the church, as well as general society. Therefore, we need to change our perspectives that marriage will meet all of our wants and needs.
Seek Jesus to meet your needs, not others. This is what we should be teaching, speaking, and living, whether single or married.
Value marriage for a lifetime, not just for convenience. Marriage is more than saying yes to the dress. We should value and affirm an individual’s decision to put off marriage until they’ve found a person worthy to spend a lifetime with. With pressure to marry from church, family, or society, too many couples are marrying without considering the sanctity, honor and commitment a marriage takes for a lifetime.
Build friendships with non-married individuals. For those of you entrenched in parenting or married life, do you build relationships with non-married individuals in your church or community? How can we all make friendships with others outside our peer group?
This is a non-exclusive list that comes from a mom, sister, aunt and friend of non-married people who are vibrant, talented and amazing people. It grieves me when I hear people’s comments about the marital status of single individuals in my life.
What are ways you’ve included single adults into your life or your church family? What are the struggles you see in church families for singles? What has been your experience? We’d love to hear from you.